State Sen. Andrew Roraback of Goshen announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for Congress on Thursday, becoming the ninth candidate to declare for the open 5th Congressional District seat.
“I’m running because 18 years of service will allow me to hit the ground running,” he said, dismissing the head start enjoyed by four other Republicans and four Democrats who have begun raising money, hiring staff and establishing an organizatin.
Roraback said he’s been thinking seriously about the bid for the last month as he discussed the decision with his wife and family. He said his legislative experience and full-time job as a lawyer gives the Republican 5th District race an element it was lacking.
“I’ve held a full-time job since I’ve been in the legislature, and I’m not unaware of the challenges small businesses face,” he said. “The more we looked at the field of candidates, the more we felt I could make a positive difference. I bring a wealth of experience, I represent 15 communities. I have a passion for public service and I’m a bit of a policy wonk. I love to dig into the issues.”
Not only is he the ninth candidate running for the open congressional seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, who is passing up a re-election bid to run for an open U.S. Senate seat, Roraback joins four other Republicans vying for what many consider a swing seat in the state.
Roraback is the only GOP candidate with legislative experience.
Torrington Mayor Ryan Bingham, who joined Roraback at his kickoff outside the town hall in Goshen, said Roraback’s experience makes him an easy choice in a crowded field.
“I think he’s a positive addition coming in when a lot of people weren’t sure who to choose,” he said. “I think a lot of people were sitting on the fence thinking these are good candidates, but we’re looking for somebody different.”
“I think he’s come in at the perfect time,” he added. “There’s a lot of people that I talk to in the area that said they didn’t know who to choose and I felt the same way. Now that Andrew’s coming in, I think they all know him and they all know him to be honest and hard working. I think you’ll see a lot of people coming off that fence.”
Roraback has spent almost 18 years in the legislature, serving three terms as a state representative starting in 1994 and serving as a state senator since 2000. He currently represents the 30th District Senate seat, a sprawling district running south from the Massachusetts line through Litchfield County along the New York border to Brookfield. He’s also considered running for statewide office. In 2010, he filed papers to explore a run for attorney general, but dropped the bid before the Republican convention.
Roraback serves as a ranking member of the Environment Committee and the Finance, Revenue & Bonding Committee, as well as co-chair of the Regulations Review Committee. His legislative record paints him as a fiscal conservative, an advocate of environmental causes and sometimes as a social liberal. He voted with Democrats in recent years to legalize medical marijuana and in 2009, he voted as the only Senate Republican to abolish the death penalty.
GOP state chairman Jerry Labriola, who attended the press conference, said he felt Roraback made a strong addition to the Republicans running in the fifth.
“I’m almost embarrassed by the wealth of riches we get to present to our rank and file,” he said. “Andrew has a strong record of being a fiscal conservative. His record of public service speaks for itself.”
Other 5th District Republican candidates include Justin Bernier of Plainville, who finished second in a three-way race for the Republican Party’s nomination for the 5th District last year. He lost the nod to Sam Caligiuri of Waterbury, who lost to Murphy in the general election.
Scott Will, Bernier’s campaign manager, released a statement on Monday in anticipation of Roraback’s announcement.
“Justin is friendly with Andrew, but they have different positions on many issues that are important to voters,” he wrote in an e-mailed statement. “Justin believes that Republicans in the 5th District want to nominate a candidate who will stand for conservative principles when it counts most.”
Farmington Town Council Chairman Mike Clark, businesswoman Lisa Wilson-Foley and real estate developer Mark Greenberg are also running for the seat.
Greenberg said he welcomed the competition, but he didn’t feel Roraback made a strong addition to the race.
“I think it’s late and I think the field of candidates is pretty full at this point in time,” he said. “We welcome the debate, but I don’t think people in this district want another career politician.”
Four Democrats, including House Speaker Chris Donovan, former state representative and Cheshire resident Elizabeth Esty, Dan Roberti of Kent and Mike Williams of Preston are running for the seat, as well.
Donovan’s campaign declined to comment on Roraback’s entry and Esty’s campaign released a statement welcoming him into the race.
With his late announcement, Roraback missed the opportunity to fundraise for three quarters. Fundraising slowed for all the candidates accept for Donovan and Bernier, who proved the only two to see their fundraising improve after the second quarter. Roraback will need to play catch up to compete with other leading fundraisers like Roberti and Esty.
“It’s a reality,” he said. “I mean I’ve just announced on October 20th. I’ve not yet begun to raise funds and some of the other candidates in the race have the ability to write checks on their own, which is an ability that I don’t have.”